Yongdingmen is the main gate of the southern wall of the outer city of Beijing in the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is located at the southern end of the central axis of Beijing, standing between the Zuoan and Youan Gates. It is the largest gate in the outer city and a main thoroughfare for entering and leaving the city from the south.
Yongding Gate was first built in the 32nd year of the Jiajing reign of the Ming Dynasty (AD1553). At that time, only the gate tower was built. In the 43rd year of the Jiajing reign (AD1564), the bulwark was added. In the 15th year of the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty (AD1750), the arrow tower was added and the bulwark wall was rebuilt, which became the typical style that lasted for 200 years. The construction of the gate tower at Yongding Gate took 197 years to be completed during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Yongding Gate was originally called “Zhengyang Outer Gate”. In the 43rd year of the Jiajing reign, it was officially named Yongding Gate, meaning “permanently stable”. Because Yongding Gate was the outermost gate of the imperial city and there was a soil mound (Yandun) to the south, which was the stronghold of Yuan Dadu in the south. It was also called “Guo Gate” or “Gao Gate”.
Although Yongding Gate is a gate of the outer city, its gate tower was built in the architectural style of the inner city, which is a typical three-eave roofed building with a ridged roof and a double-layered eave. The southern part of old Beijing is marked by Yongding Gate. The area within Yongding Gate is called the South City, while outside of the gate is the southern part of the city.
After the construction of the outer city, the central axis of Beijing extended from Zhengyang Gate to Yongding Gate, a distance of 7.8 kilometers to the north of the Bell and Drum Towers. It laid the foundation for Beijing’s central axis to become the world’s longest city axis, which still exists today.
As a gate of the outer city, Yongding Gate’s grandeur is not as eye-catching as the red walls and yellow tiles of the Forbidden City, another heritage site on the central axis, nor as famous as the Temple of Heaven, Bell Tower, and Drum Tower. However, Yongding Gate’s status is equally important.
Due to its height, Yongding Gate, along with Jingshan Park, the Bell and Drum Towers, is known as a high point on the central axis and is an excellent place to enjoy the scenery of the central axis and the city. On a clear, sunny day, standing on the gate tower and looking north, the scenery of the city is fully visible. All buildings are arranged on both sides of a central line, including the walls of the royal altars of the Temple of Heaven and the Temple of Agriculture on the east and west sides of the main road. Further north are rows of shops, extending all the way to Zhengyang Gate.
However, the magnificent Yongding Gate did not stand witness to the changes of Beijing from the day it was built. Like most of the city gates in Beijing, the gate tower of Yongding Gate did not escape the fate of being demolished.
The reconstruction of the Yongding Gate tower was made possible thanks to the successful bid for the Olympic Games. Yongding Gate was the most important part of the central axis landscape renovation project in Beijing. Without Yongding Gate, the central axis would not be complete. Therefore, in 2004, the Yongding gate tower was rebuilt on its original site according to historical records, and the starting point of the southern central axis of Beijing was recreated.
In 2003, a stone plaque that hung on Yongding Gate when it was built in the 32nd year of the Jiajing reign of the Ming Dynasty was discovered under an ancient cypress tree in the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum at the Xiannong Altar. The stone plaque embedded in the reconstructed Yongding Gate was made to resemble this original plaque.
The reconstructed gate tower is 26 meters high, five rooms wide, and three rooms deep. It’s south-facing. A heavy-eaved three-drip-water-style building form was adopted while grey tube tiles and green cut edges were used, with ornamental glazed tiles on the roof ridge.
To the south of Yongding Gate is the spacious Yongdingmen Square, and to the north is Yongding Gate Park, which is surrounded by trees. In the square, kites of various colors can be seen flying in the sky in the evening, adding color and vitality to the historic gray city gate tower. In the park, the moat, which has been dredged and treated, ripples with clear water, reflecting the towering and magnificent Yongding Gate Tower under the setting sun.